Category Archives: critical management studies

What does it mean to be critical? – the paradox of the private and the public

‘…the most admirable thinkers within the scholarly community you have chosen to join do not split their work from their lives.’

C Wright Mills, Appendix to The Sociological Imagination.

In previous posts we have considered what it means to be critical. To bring one’s critical faculties to work can be unsettling for oneself and for others because it begins to reveal, and perhaps pick away at, power relationships. Perhaps Kant was the first philosopher to observe that to use one’s critical judgement involves subjecting authority public privateto scrutiny and come face to face with the exercise of power. What we take to be given, taken for granted, which is one of the ways that power works in society, may suddenly appear to be less so. And there may be a cost in denaturalising the way things are done around here particularly if the dominant ethos in the organisation is appreciative, or sets great store by ‘alignment’. The cost might be to exclude oneself or to make oneself vulnerable. Continue reading

Complexity and Management Conference 5-7th June 2020

This is to give you advance notice that next year’s Complexity and Management Conference will be 5th-7th June 2020, at Roffey Park, speaker and topic to be decided.

Complexity and Management Conference 17-19th May: agenda

What does it mean to be critical? – complexity, reflexivity and doubt in everyday organisational life.

For this year’s Complexity and Management Conference we are delighted to have Professor André Spicer from the Cass Business School, City, University of London to give the keynote on Saturday morning. André holds a PhD from the University of Melbourne. He has held visiting appointments at universities around the world. André is the author of many academic articles and nine books. The most recent are ‘Business Bullshit’, ’The Stupidity Paradox’ and ‘Desperately Seeking Self Improvement’.

The agenda for the one day introduction to complex responsive processes on Friday 17th May and for the conference on Saturday 18th and Sunday 19th May is here: CMC Agenda

There are still some places available, both for the one day workshop and for the conference, and you can book your place here.

Complexity and Management Conference 17-19th May 2019 – one month to go.

Particularly from a UK perspective, where public discourse has become highly repetitive, accusatory and frankly boring, there has never been a better time to stop and think about what’s going on for us and whether our current ways of thinking about the world serve us well. What does it take to reflect together, to think critically about the predicaments we find ourselves in, and to question our own assumptions? How might we become more skilful in widening our circles of concern?

There is just a month to go until the annual Complexity and Management Conference 17-19th May entitled: What does it mean to be critical? – complexity, reflexivity and doubt in everyday organisational life. There are still some remaining places at the conference, as well as for the one day introductory workshop on complexity

220px-Socrates_Louvre

Socrates in the Louvre

and management on Friday 17th May. It is also now possible just to book for the Saturday to hear the keynote and attend workshops presented by delegates on Saturday afternoon. The booking page is here.

Our key note speaker on Saturday 18th May is André Spicer from Cass Business School, who has developed an international reputation for confronting fads of management, ‘wellness’ and the idea of smart organisations for example, to provoke us to think about what we are encouraged to take for granted. André will talk about his forthcoming book on critique and doubt.

The conference is an unusual forum for creating time to discuss what matters to the delegates – to rediscover who we are becoming and how we might take the next step together.

Hope to see you there.

Complexity&management Conference – 17th-19th May: end of early bird booking 1st April.

What kind of experience can you anticipate at the Complexity and Management Conference 17-19th May at Roffey Park entitled: What does it mean to be critical? – complexity, reflexivity and doubt in everyday organisational life.  And what might you expect if you sign up to the one day workshop on Friday 17th May? Early bird booking discounts end 1st April 2019 – so book here.

Starting with the one day workshop, you will have a chance to explore the relevance of complexity thinking for your work, drawing on an intellectual perspective which has been developed over a 20 year period. There will be two seminar sessions exploring the key ideas underpinning the body of ideas called complex responsive processes of relating, but in the main you will have lots of opportunities to think with others about what’s going on for you in your organisation. It is time and space to take your experience seriously. Participants from previous one day workshops have

Arendt

found that it has prepared them better for  the conference,  although the workshop can be stand-alone too.

Meanwhile the conference, which begins with an inaugural dinner on Friday evening 17th at 7pm, is not a conventional academic event. You are very welcome to come and present a paper or a particular dilemma from your work during the workshop sessions on Saturday afternoon. But otherwise the only requirement is to come and participate fully with others to explore together why it is important to think critically in contemporary organisational life. In many ways the confer

ence itself is acounter-cultural event: there is time to reflect with no particular end in view apart from making meaning together, what the philosopher Hannah Arendt referred to as thinking without a bannister.

Conference fees, board and lodging are all included in the price. The conference ends after lunch on Sunday 19th May.

 

 

Complexity and Management Conference 17-19th May 2019 – booking now for early bird rates.

There are just three weeks to go before the end of early bird booking for this year’s Complexity and Management Conference 17th-19th May. As for the last two years we will also be offering a one-day introduction to complex responsive processes on Friday 17th May for anyone interested in the ideas, whether or not you go on to attend the conference.

This year we are expecting a good turn-out, partly because of our speaker Professor Andre Spicer, and partly because the event is a lively and thought-provoking occasion, where we talk about what matters with no particular end in view. Book soon to ensure you secure a place.mia_project_153_01

The title of this year’s conference, What does it mean to be critical? – complexity, reflexivity and doubt in everyday organisational life draws attention to the importance of making sense of contemporary organisational life in ways which call into question taken for granted assumptions.

Some of the things we might discuss at the conference, which I suggest are current pathologies of management, are set out below. None of these phenomena is new or unremarked upon and critiqued. Yet they still prevail in organisational life in ways which can lead to unhelpful behaviour in groups. They can distract from more productive ways of working which pay attention to the difficulties of getting things done together in the here and now. Continue reading

Complexity and Management Conference 17th-19th May – booking now.

This year’s Complexity and Management Conference, on 17th-19th May:  What does it mean to be critical? – complexity, reflexivity and doubt in everyday organisational life offers the opportunity for delegates to reflect on what it means to be critical and why it is important to be so in today’s organisations. On the first morning of the conference we have invited Professor Andre Spicer to help us get the discussion going. If you want to sign up for the conference and save yourself some money before the early bird deadline expires, then click here.

Here are a few ideas on the traditions of thought to which we will be contributing.

We have a strong critical tradition in western thought, starting with the ancient Greeks. However, the contemporary philosopher Julian Baggini has shown us how a variety of cultures have their own traditions of systematically thinking about the human condition, on the basis that, as Socrates put it, the life unexamined is not worth living. How might we lead a good life, what do we mean by truth, how might we guard against the fragility of goodness, as Martha Nussbaum expressed it?[1] Examining our lives in the back and forth dialectic of discussion is necessary if we are to make meaning and become fully human, but it can have its negative consequences, as it did for Socrates. Problematising, probing, judging comes with its own risks: we are unlikely to be condemned to death for corrupting Athenian youth, as he was, but simply asking questions can call out a strong reaction. Why might that be?

As Kant identified, to critique (originating in judgement, from the Greek krisis) involves imagination and daring:

Enlightenment is man’s release from his self-incurred tutelage. Tutelage is man’s inability to make use of his understanding without direction from another. Self-incurred is this tutelage when its cause lies not in lack of reason but in lack of resolution and courage to use it without direction from another. Sapere aude! “Have courage to use your own reason!”- that is the motto of enlightenment.[2]

Kant thought that ‘daring to know’ may require courage to take on sources of authority, so that even religion, perhaps the biggest locus of authority in his day, would need ‘to sustain the test of its free and public examination.’[3] He suggested that subjecting sources of legitimacy and authority to critical inquiry is not something to be undertaken lightly, although it is necessary if we are to liberate ourselves from ignorance. Both implicitly and explicitly, becoming critical means engaging with questions of legitimacy and power and calling into question the status quo.

But is it enough just to doubt and reason on our own and by ourselves? From a Hegelian perspective the answer is no, since Hegelians would claim that we are not just autonomous, rational individuals cognizing in the abstract, but we are socially and historically formed. More, and from a pragmatic perspective, it is not helpful to doubt everything all of the time, but we should engage first with those problems which preoccupy us.[4] To pursue inquiry from a Hegelian and pragmatic perspective means taking an interest in history. How has the phenomenon, the particular predicament we are interested in evolved over time, and what has led to what? We then try to place our  difficulties, within the larger history of social relations and their structural contradictions. This may mean drawing attention to power relationships and calling into question the legitimacy of certain ways of knowing and speaking, perhaps asking the question cui bono, who benefits? It certainly means pursuing these questions through dialectical inquiry, where an abstract notion of truth is replaced by the idea that insight arises in the back and forth or argument in a community of engaged inquirers.

And by taking part in discussion and argumentation we then find ourselves discovering that moral and political judgements in particular are plural. We might enhance our ability to see the world from perspectives other than our own. So in addition to Kant’s injunction to dare to know, we might find ourselves developing greater empathy, imagination and solidarity.

If this kind of inquiry interests you, where you engage with a committed group of peers to discuss current organisational difficulties and discover plural and complex points of view, then this year’s Complexity and Management conference 17th-19th May is the place to be. There may be no resolution to your predicaments but perhaps you will find some degree of solidarity with and from others in the complex responsive processes of relating. Dare to come!

Early bird concessions end 1st April.

[1] Nussbaum, M (1986) The Fragility of Goodness: Luck and Ethics in Greek Tragedy and Philosophy, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

[2] An answer to the question what is Enlightenment? 1784

[3] Introduction to the Critique of Pure Reason, 1781.

[4] “We cannot begin with complete doubt. We must begin with all the prejudices which we actually have when we enter upon the study of philosophy…Let us not pretend to doubt in philosophy what we do not doubt in our hearts.” CS Peirce (1992), The Essential Peirce: Selected Philosophical Writings Vol 1, Bloomington: Indiana University Press: pp28-29.